Bill Gaytten has a lot more time on his hands. He admitted as much backstage after his first season designing at John Galliano without simultaneously being pulled in the direction of Dior.

Yet a feeling of urgency was in the air on Sunday afternoon. For starters, reaching the show's venue in one of the outer arrondissements of Paris proved more stressful in the wake of a strike protesting the European Union's austerity measures. Behind the scenes, the collection arrived late. Early guests might have even caught the rehearsal. And then there was the pressing question of where John Galliano (the brand) now fits within a power-shifting season closely watched by fashion types as if it were the presidential election.

Maybe Gaytten was able to block this out entirely. Maybe he determined this to be the first real opportunity to express his vision. Codes… what codes? Frankly, Galliano as it was would have less relevance today, so change is good. Still, there was something missing—joie de vivre. Gaytten was so wrapped up in newness, he occasionally overlooked what has always been the heart of the brand: character.

The designer effectively established distance from Galliano (the man). If frills remained a focal point for Fall 2012, Spring featured folds on folds. Occasionally, too, overworked fullness. Impressively, Gaytten forced volume out of heavyweight cotton. Think trenchcoat heft. As dresses—particularly one in a punchy shade of salmon pink—the fabric maintained purity of form. Gaytten insisted that the folds, origami-esque on black bandeaus, have always been there, only in the past they were "disguised" by too much decoration and embroidery. "You can see them now," he said. And you can also see how much he fussed over each one.

Woe to the bulk for bulk's sake: trousers with bubble trouble and shorts like mansard roofs. Gaytten, incidentally, studied architecture and says he's "more in love with the modern movement than John ever was." All right, this accounts for the intersecting back panels and angular hemlines. Less so the Edwardian-style dresses reinterpreted in filmy layers and "mille-feuille" hats created by Stephen Jones.

Large turquoise katakana lettering meant that Gaytten's Japanese influence was not lost in translation. He's not the only designer to riff on kimonos this season; he may just be the first to add in layers, not eliminate them.

About that blurred print, it's actually a jacquard. But yes, you're seeing correctly: Those are cars piled up, bumper to bumper. How uncanny. And how symbolic for a house that still cannot escape its past. Alternately, you could conclude that the other motif—a soaring man in silhouette—represents a self-fulfilling prophecy. Time (but, ideally, not too much of it) will tell.